Extreme athlete and freeriding legend Xavier De Le Rue on elegance, speed and safety in the mountains.
Mr. De Le Rue, some of us „normal people“ can hardly even look at your videos. Extremely steep slopes, extremely fast pace. Why does it have to be so extremely extreme?
I think part of it is a common misconception. If you don’t know much about snowboarding and look at a three-minute edit, you will probably think what we do is just crazy. But of course, there is a lot of thought behind it, a lot of experience, a lot of preparation. Everything can be explained! (laughs)
Please do explain!
Maybe it is hard to understand, but with time, the overall safety awareness actually becomes bigger. I have been working on my technique for all my life, you know, I’ve been doing a lot of competitions. So now, when I’m out there in the snow, I actually feel better when I go faster, I feel more in control. The faster I go, the more attention I pay, and the more emotionally involved I am. That’s the way I love to do it. The more passion you put in, the more it makes you focus.
After almost 30 years of this, can you still enjoy a boring, family-friendly Sunday descent?
(laughs) People watching the videos think I’m doing that kind of stuff all the time, but that’s not the case at all. I’m really choosing the right moment, and of course, when „it’s on, it’s on“ – but basically, it’s much more about being in the mountains. Most of the time it’s not about „performance“ at all, it’s about being in nature, being with friends. So yeah, I do enjoy a lovely, peaceful Sunday with my daughter and my wife, just playing around, going really slow. (laughs) And I also think that getting older, I really feel less need of proving something everytime I step on my snowboard.
Watching your videos, it seems like „getting there“ is almost more adventurous than the actual descent!
That’s actually quite often the case, and the story with most of these descents. When you reach the point where you put your skies or your board on, most of the work is done. If you put them on, it’s because the conditions are safe, you have done all your preparations, you have calculated all the risks – everything is aligned. The riding itself really isn’t the biggest „job“. It’s all about preparation.
Probably adds to the fun of finally going!
Well, you still need to be focussed, you’re in an extreme, „high-stress“ environment, you’re far away from everything, you’re in high altitude. Things can go wrong, so it’s important to be reasonable. But it’s true: when you’re ready to go, a big part of „the problem“ is behind you. (laughs)
When you think of Snowboarding, you think of beautiful landscapes, blue skies, perfect snow and a lot of fun. When people start snowboarding, do safety concerns play any role?
It really depends on what you want to do and where you want to go snowboarding. For kids on vacation it’s just fun and playing around, and that’s good – if you want to go into the mountains, for sure the instructor will talk about safety. But I think, in the beginning, it’s more about some rather general rules, you know, it’s about being aware of the surroundings, paying attention to details, having a lot of common sense, basically taking a big margin of safety on everything.
If you don’t know anything, your range is really small – because everything is potentially dangerous. And to be honest, the beauty you talk about is one of the biggest dangers! Everything looks so calm, so pristine, and if you’re new to it, it’s very hard to read. Things can go bad in a split second – and turn the mountain from paradise into hell. For people with no experience, I think that’s the hardest thing to conceive.
So what’s your advice for beginners?
Humility. First and foremost, you have to be humble, always go with experienced people, always ask them about everything, look how they do things – take small steps, you know? It’s important! Because it’s a mountain sport, and with more tourism, more places become more easily accessible. It can feel really safe, with lots of people and all the infrastructure, but it’s still the mountain, and it’s still just nature out there. That’s something I’ve been really trying to keep showing in my videos: It’s not all sunny days and fun, it’s very much the wild, that’s something you need to remind yourself of everyday.
You are not only famous for being a great Athlete, but also for surviving a great avalanche. How did your approach to Snowboarding change after the accident?
Oh yeah, I’ve changed quite a lot! My first reaction was to want to stop it all completely, thinking it was just too dangerous. Then I took six months to really study how I could keep going and have a reasonable amount of risk, so things like that wouldn’t happen anymore.
Basically, I kept looking at it from all angles, so that at the end of the season – being a father, you know – I could honestly say „Okay, I really was not just gambling with my life all that time!“ I know I’ve put myself in pretty dangerous situations, but I’ve also been very sober and humble and reasonable about it. And I’ve really become even stricter with the way I’m making decisions. Now, every time I see a line or a descent, I try to imagine to worst case possible. And then I try to see the solution to that scenario. That’s really how I approach everything today, and if I see a danger that I would have no way to avoid or escape, if it happened – I just don’t go.
I might come back, maybe the next day, or the next year, but I’m not taking that risk anymore, so it has been a big change for me. And you know, as I was telling you before about how it’s difficult to realize the danger – the avalanche is just the perfect reminder of that.
That day was a beautiful day, too!
Exactly. It was a perfect day, we did perfect runs all morning, everybody got a little too happy and careless – and then the mountain woke up and taught us a good lesson.